More than 2 1/2 years after two Columbia men were killed during a spring break scuffle in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., the case against their accused killers appears to be headed toward a resolution - thanks to one defendant's motion for a speedy trial.
A week after Jonathan Trull, 29, filed his latest motion, Judge Shawn Briese set a final motions date for next week and said jury selection in the case against Trull and his two brothers, Joshua, 20, and Christopher, 27, would begin Jan. 22. The trial, in Volusia County's Daytona Beach courthouse, is expected to last from three to six weeks, said prosecutor Noah McKinnon.
Four others have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the stabbing deaths of Kevans Bradshaw Hall II, 23, and Matthew Wichita, 21, and are expected to testify at the January trial. Seth K. Qubeck, a friend of Hall and Wichita, was seriously injured but survived the attack.
Death penalty sought
The Trull brothers have each been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against all three.
With one motion, Jonathan Trull managed to pull off a feat that has stymied Florida prosecutors for the last few years - setting a firm trial date in the murder case, McKinnon said. Under Florida's Rules of Criminal Procedure, once a defendant asks for a speedy trial, the state must prosecute within 60 days, he said.
"The state was doing everything it could. The defense has rights that the state does not have," he said. "One of the defendants exercised that right [to a speedy trial], and Christmas came early for me. I'm pleased."
Joint trial date
And while only one brother made the request, Briese, who previously had denied a defense motion for separate trials for all three, set a joint trial date for January. Attorneys for the other two brothers immediately asked again for separate trials; their motion will be heard next week.
The three attorneys representing the brothers did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Hall, Wichita, Qubeck and two friends were in the midst of a nine-day spring-break trip and were staying in a beachfront condominium in New Smyrna Beach, south of Daytona, on April 16, 1998, when they came to the aid of at least one woman who was being harassed by a group of local men, according to investigators.
About three hours later, the local men returned with friends - this time armed with knives and baseball bats. Hall and Wichita were killed during the second confrontation; Qubeck was beaten with a bat and stabbed 17 times, and spent three weeks in a Daytona Beach hospital.
In the 2 1/2 years since, Wichita's family has stayed in touch with the court system through each motion, hearing and delayed trial date.
The repeated trial delays have been tough, said Christine Neperud, Wichita's mother. After the last motions hearing in October, she wrote letters to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and judicial officials, venting her frustrations.
"I've waited for this for almost three years, and now I'm scared because I'm going to see things and hear things that are going to trouble me and make me sad," she said yesterday.